It’s November, and you know what that means. Pro wrestling’s longest continuously running tournament, the 46th edition of All Japan’s Real World Tag League (AKA World’s Strongest Tag Determination League) is approaching. This year’s edition returns to its traditional one block format after last year’s 16 teams spread over four blocks.
The Real World Tag League uses your standard 2 points for a win, 1 point for a draw and zero points for a loss, DQ, double countout or no contest. There are no formal tournament finals. After the final night, the team with the most points wins the tournament. However, since All Japan does not use tie-breakers, if two teams (or more) finish tied for the most points at the end, they have a playoff match on the final night. That scenario occurred last in 2019 and it would not surprise me if that happens again this year.
One thing that stands out in this tournament is just how large most of the participants are, both vertically and horizontally, while the smaller guys like Shotaro Ashino and his suplexes, and Takuya Nomura and his strikes, have styles that make them credible against bigger opponents. There will be a lot of big meaty men slapping meat in this. I think this will make the tournament unique and make the quality of it better than it might look on paper.
The tournament takes place over eight shows from November 13 to December 7, with both the opening and final show taking place at Korakuen Hall. This year features only one team that has ever been in the tournament before, the Saito Brothers, so let’s look at the field featuring some fresh teams.
SUWAMA & KONO (WORLD TAG TEAM CHAMPIONS)
I absolutely hated the fact that this Voodoo Murders team defeated Shotaro Ashino and Ryuki Honda for the World Tag Team Championship on October 23. It was a horrible match filled with interference. The company is repeating the storyline they did with Suwama winning the Triple Crown but now in the tag team division.
I still think Suwama is a good worker when he’s not doing Voodoo Murders bullshit, but KONO is a big lug. The question is just how much bullshit they are going to do in this. They dialed back the Voodoo Murders interference and cheating for a while there, but brought it back with a vengeance when this team won the tag titles.
The team will get some big wins but they may very well get upset by Yuji Nagata and Yuma Anzai on the final night, keeping them from winning it all. And then, they hopefully drop the titles to the tournament winners on January 2.
SHOTARO ASHINO & RYUKI HONDA
The former tag champs had a great run with the titles and were a highlight for All Japan at a time when a lot of the other booking was disappointing. I’m not sure you can say they were the tag team of the year, but I feel like by the end of this year, you will be able to make a decent case, at least for Japan.
Ashino and Honda are in many ways just an old school ass kicking tag team. Lots of lariats and suplexes. Their chemistry and charisma as a team has steadily improved, and their Gungnir of Anarchy faction feels like something special in a company that needs more special things. While I had expected them to be the champions going into the tournament, their loss of the titles immediately shoots them to the top of the contenders to win it all.
They face Shuji Ishikawa and Cyrus on the last night of the tournament, though that doesn’t feel like a de facto final that you would put on last for the show. And while the booking of Ashino in All Japan has long been derided, I think there was a reason that Suwama pinned Ashino to win the tag titles instead of the much younger Honda. For those reasons, I’m thinking we are getting an actual winner take all final this year against the team I’m about to discuss next.
YUMA AOYAGI & JAKE LEE
Until Voodoo Murders’ title win, this was the team that I thought were the frontrunners to win. This is a combo of the company’s main eventers that have never been a regular tag team before. The set up for this was Total Eclipse slowly falling apart and Aoyagi coming to save Lee from Voodoo Murders. They were a reluctant team at first but now have become more comfortable together once Lee formally disbanded Total Eclipse.
But the more I think about it, the more I’ve decided that I’m not sure this team is really long for this world. They never bothered to develop any double team maneuvers or come up with a name for the team. I think the story in 2023 will be Aoyagi going after the Triple Crown, so he won’t be in the tag title scene. But they do make a good team to be in play on the last night of the tournament where they face Kuma Arashi and Koji Doi. I think they beat that team and then face Ashino and Honda in a final match. However, you can’t totally write them off as winners, but it does seem much less likely than it did a few weeks ago.
KENTO MIYAHARA & TAKUYA NOMURA
A somewhat surprising team given they’ve had their issues in the past, but I thought something was up when they teamed together on a couple of shows in the past few months. Of course, just because they’re teaming doesn’t mean all the issues between them have been resolved. Nomura views Miyahara as incredibly self-centered and immature (he’s not wrong).
So what I think happens is that they do well in the tournament but on the final night against the Saito Brothers, Miyahara does something stupid which costs them the match. It would also not surprise me if such a team meltdown leads to Nomura challenging Miyahara for the Triple Crown on January 3.
KUMA ARASHI & KOJI DOI
This team is a fan favorite, but I’m skeptical the company will ever pull the trigger on them and have them win the tournament or the tag titles. I am looking forward to seeing them in the tournament because I think they will do very well match quality-wise in a tournament full of large men like themselves.
While I don’t think they will win the tournament, I do think there is a very slim chance that if there is an actual final, it could be Ashino and Honda against Arashi and Doi. Since they made the finals last year, you might as well tell the story of them never being able to win the big one.
In a last-minute update, just a couple days before the tournament starts it was announced that Arashi and Doi would get a new theme as a tag team performed by Osamu Suzuki, a guitarist who has written themes for Jake Lee and Yuma Anzai. Given this new information, I’ll bump them up to dark horse level in the predictions. Looks like there are some sort of plans for them.
THE SAITO BROTHERS (JUN & REI)
Look, I’m not going to lie, I like the Saito Brothers. They are big guys with a Sumo-influenced style, something you don’t see a lot of in puroresu these days. While they have shown improvement, especially in the charisma department, since returning from their excursion to the US and Europe, they still have a ways to go. They have had good matches since returning like their match against Ashino and Honda on September 19 for the tag titles, but they have also looked very green at times. But their best work recently has been against large opponents, so I am cautiously optimistic they can show something in this tournament.
All Japan still seems very high on these two, so while I don’t see them winning or even coming close, they will get a big upset or two.
SHUJI ISHIKAWA & CYRUS
Like Miyahara and Nomura, these two have been recent rivals. Cyrus even defeated Ishikawa in the Royal Road Tournament back in August. But they have developed a mutual respect.
I have enjoyed Cyrus in All Japan thus far. His Vader imitation seems to have gotten over, and he is a lot of fun against the right opponent. Like the Saito Brothers, I think he will do well in a tournament full of big guys.
This team will get some big wins, but I don’t see them winning it all. They could spoil Ashino and Honda’s tournament on the final night. I could also see them being a regular tag team past this tournament.
But I will finish off by saying that since Ishikawa and Suwama are feuding right now, there is a sliver of a chance they could win the tournament. And given the average size of participants in this thing, why not go with the absolutely largest team?
YUJI NAGATA & YUMA ANZAI
Anzai was hyped up to be a super rookie and so far has not disappointed. He’s got the look and has a sizable moveset for a wrestler who has only had five matches in his career. To be in this tournament is a huge vote of confidence in him and Nagata is the perfect partner. One of the highlights of this tournament will be to watch Anzai’s development throughout it.
These guys of course have zero chance of winning, but I do think they will score an upset against Suwama and KONO on the final night.
Winners: Shotaro Ashino & Ryuki Honda
Possible: Yuma Aoyagi & Jake Lee
Dark Horses: Shuji Ishikawa & Cyrus, Kuma Arashi & Koji Doi